Thailand is “unique.” Thailand is “different.” Thailand can’t be compared with anywhere else. These claims are often made for Thailand, often by those who know very little about anywhere else. They are often made about many countries, including Russia, North Korea, Scotland and many more, often described in marketing terms as “unique” or “different.”
Difference can be expressed in various ways. For Thailand, the military dictatorship has emphasized its “difference,” sometimes even claiming that it isn’t a dictatorship!
When the EU Delegation to Thailand recently issued a statement it said three simple and very clear things:
The EU Delegation is concerned about detention without judicial overview and recalls that Thailand, as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), has a duty to bring suspects promptly before a judge.
The EU Delegation is equally concerned about the continued use of military courts to try civilians and calls on the government to restrict the use of such courts to military offences committed by military personnel.
As a friend and partner of Thailand, the EU has repeatedly called for the democratic process to be restored and for martial law to be lifted. Rule of Law and the protection and promotion of Human Rights are crucial elements for stability and progress.
The response from the military dictatorship was equally clear. It rejected the statement. That is certainly not “different,” at least not historically. Military dictatorships in Thailand and elsewhere have usually rejected calls for democracy, rule of law and human rights.
Speaking on behalf of General Udomdej Sitabutr, the junta’s secretary general and army chief, he justified military dictatorship and its components including martial law, military courts, detention without judicial overview and the trashing of international obligations. Winthai said the junta “is well aware of this [EU] concern…” and states that the EU simply doesn’t understand the junta’s Thailand, saying the EU should “think about the current situation in Thailand that is different from those of other countries.”
The military dictatorship’s Thailand is indeed different. As best we can tell, and we are relying on Wikipedia, Thailand is the world’s only currently operating military dictatorship. Even if this is wrong and there are a few more, Thailand is operating under very different rules from most other countries of the world.
Because Thailand is afflicted by this unusual political pathology (a military dictatorship), Winthai observes that this means “the context of problem solving here may be different from ones used elsewhere…”. Again, he’s correct. As one of the world’s almost extinct political dictatorships, Thailand’s military bosses expect obedience, passivity and subservience to the military state’s power.
That context justifies martial law, military courts, detention without judicial overview and the trashing of international obligations. Indeed, Winthai explained this using militarily idiosyncratic “logic”: “[m]artial law is being invoked only to prohibit political gatherings and to enhance the efficiency of law enforcement authorities…”.
The dopes at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were their usual diplomatic worst, saying “the ministry was aware of the EU’s latest stance and saw nothing new in it.”
So Thailand is different. It is politically different for all the wrong reasons. But that is exactly how the military, the palace and the royalist elite want it. After all, they benefit most from this politically idiosyncratic regime.